Football: Quarterback situation murky in Ohio

Ohio University quarterback J.D. Sprague attempts a pass late in the third quarter. The Bobcats lost 20-3 against the Wildcats on Saturday. (Photo by Zak Kolesar)

Ohio University quarterback J.D. Sprague attempts a pass late in the third quarter against Kentucky. The Bobcats lost 20-3 against the Wildcats on Saturday. Photo by Zak Kolesar.

The Ohio Bobcats and coach Frank Solich are constantly talking about their one-game-at-a-time approach. At the start of every week the slate starts clean for Ohio: 0-0. To focus on the ultimate goal — going 1-0 — the Bobcats must forget about the prior week’s successes and mistakes.

Mistakes are the hard ones to forget about; Ohio had four fumbles on four of its final five drives in the win against Kent State.

The Ohio offense was trounced by the rugged interior of the Wildcats’ defense this week.

Successes, on the other hand, are what coaches enjoy see being carried over from week to week.

But just as soon as things start to go south for a certain player, a coaches’ short-term memory needs to kick into gear. Redshirt junior quarterback Derrius Vick finished his first start for the new-era Bobcats with 18 pass completions for 262 yards and two scores. He followed that veteran-esque performance with a shaky showing against the Kentucky Wildcats, starting the game with six incomplete passes. He finished with zero yards through the air.

The poise he showed in leading Ohio to a game-winning drive against the Golden Flashes became an afterthought by the time the second quarter began in Lexington on Saturday. Four drives, 14 plays, four punts and 20 minutes into the contest against Kentucky and Vick is displaying the polar opposite form from his near pristine performance in game one.

So he was benched in favor of redshirt sophomore J.D. Sprague, who did not see the field once last weekend. Sprague commanded the offense for the remainder of the game (sans the final drive), sparking life into the flat Bobcats.

“Both (Derrius and J.D.) performed well enough in fall camp, leading up to this game, with the situations the way they were, they both got playing time (Saturday),” Solich said. “In the situation we handed him, I thought he performed well.”

The signs that Sprague showed in week two were strangely similar to what Vick provided the Bobcat offense with in week one. The most important one, however, was hope for the future. Ohio has been spoiled throughout the past three seasons with Tyler Tettleton at the helm; he will go down as one of the best Bobcat football players to ever wear hunter green and white.

Ohio football has entered a new era, and the team cannot get caught up in the accomplishments of past quarterbacks; both from a season ago and even dating back just one week.

They also cannot get caught up in playing musical chairs with their gunslingers.

“You don’t want to get on the merry-go-round with your quarterbacks,” Solich said. “But in saying that, do both of them deserve playing time, does one deserve to be ahead of the other? That’ll play itself out.”

You don’t want to get on the merry-go-round with your quarterbacks. — Solich

Solich said he wanted to get Sprague some playing time on Saturday, so after he got on a roll while Vick struggled to get anything going, the Bobcats went with the hot hand. Although the offense went stale, Sprague saw eight drives of valuable playing experience, one ending in three points for the Bobcats. In 45 plays Sprague and Ohio racked up 198 yards of total offense and looked much more fluid and mobile compared to the small sample size of playing time Vick saw on Saturday.

Sprague did have his “welcome to college football” moment, however. During a drive in the fourth quarter, Sprague fumbled a shotgun snap on 3rd and 4.

Sprague commands the Ohio offense in the rain. The redshirt sophomore quarterback finished 13 of 25 for 143 yards on Saturday.

Sprague commands the Ohio offense in the rain. Sprague, a redshirt sophomore, finished 13 of 25 for 143 yards on Saturday. Photo by Zak Kolesar.

Compared to his overall play, though, the redshirt sophomore sprung to the occasion, and did not look shaky while attempting to strike a chord in the Ohio offense.

Despite evening the score in the quarterback competition, Sprague supports Vick and knows that the team will put the man most capable of delivering the ‘Cats a win under center. Only Vick has accomplished that thus far.

“I’m confident if I go in there that I’ll be ready to go.” Sprague said of the current quarterback situation..

On top of busting out a 20-yard run, Sprague completed 13 of 25 pass attempts for 143 yards. His long of 36 yards came on the first drive of the second half, also the only drive ending with Ohio changing the scoreboard. Sprague also led the Bobcats in not committing any turnovers while he was in the game. It was not Vick-like in the sense that he led the Bobcats to victory, but it was a demonstration that makes the quarterback situation going into the next couple games somewhat cloudy.

“All week I had to prepare like I was going to go in,” Sprague said, “and when I did, it just came natural. I did not expect it, but I was ready for it.”

All week I had to prepare like I was going to go in, and when I did, it just came natural. — Sprague

Clouds did tower over Commonwealth Stadium by the time the fourth quarter began, refreshing fans, players and coaches with an evening shower. Rain provides people with a sense of renewal, striking a new beginning. The quarterback competition in Ohio has been cleansed. The score may read 1-1 in favor of neither Sprague nor Vick, but in reality it is just another clean-slate week for Ohio: 0-0.

However, the team needs to find consistency at the position that requires it the most before the season heads into full swing. Sprague and Vick have the next couple of games to state their case on the field. Ohio has the next couple of games to figure out who is the right leader for the new-era Bobcats under center.

The answer remains vague for the ‘Cats.

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